When Doug and Annie Brown were forced to leave the Baltimore area they had grown to love to look for work, the couple ended up downhearted in Denver - so much so that they were willing to do anything to put Charm City spark back in their lives.
"Let's have sex for 100 consecutive days," said Annie to Doug one night two years ago.
"What the hell, let's do it," Doug replied. "There's nothing else going on."
Eager to spice up their marriage of 14 years, the couple resorted to a personal, no-excuses course of Sex 101 (later tacking on an additional day).
Doug, who took a job as a reporter for the Denver Post, chronicled their sexcapades in a tell-all book, Just Do It . Since debuting last month, it has made the couple a hit on the daytime-talk circuit, with three appearances on NBC's Today show, two on Sirius satellite radio and a feature in the United Kingdom publication the Guardian. The book yesterday was ranked 73rd on Amazon.com's list of 100 hot new releases.
Many have become enamored of their story, as well as their perseverance. Even when staying on schedule became cumbersome and exhaustive because of the demands of work and caring for two young children, the Browns stuck with it, finding creative ways to keep their passion burning brightly - from romps in pricey hotels to risk-taking moments on unstable chairs or atop exercise balls.
And to think that one of the primary reasons for the sexperiment was their inability to find full-time work in the Baltimore area, prompting Doug, then a freelance writer whose articles were published in Baltimore Style and Washington Journalism Review, to pursue a job opening in Denver.
"It was so painful to leave that we wrote love letters to the house on the basement beams," said Doug, 41, a Philadelphia native.
The couple moved to Roland Avenue between Hampden and Roland Park from Washington's upmarket Glover Park neighborhood in 2000 after prices there were more than they could afford. Though neither knew much about the city before house-hunting, they fell in love immediately with its quirkiness, hidden charms, fiercely proud residents and their vast, reasonably priced Victorian townhouse that would have cost a fortune in D.C.
By then, the couple had lived in Philadelphia, Minneapolis, Albuquerque and South Florida. Yet Baltimore for them had more appeal than the other locales.
"I miss my friends," said Annie, "and I miss the feel and the texture of the city - the smells and the grittiness and the realness."
The couple's home quickly became a social magnet, one of their friends in the area recalls. "They would have crab feasts in their backyard in the summer," said Jason Loviglio, director of media and communication studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "They had a backyard that they turned into a lovely garden, and Annie was involved in a mom's group that made pasta and sold it at the Waverly [32nd Street] Farmers' Market.
"One time, Doug purchased a deep-fryer, bought all this food, and invited friends over. We deep-fried everything - batter, Twinkies, Snickers, strawberries. They were great Baltimoreans and great hosts. For years they talked about how they could get back to Baltimore."
Change of plans
With Annie then at home with their infant daughter and Doug working for a trade publication called Interactive Week, the two planned to take root in the area. Then his magazine folded shortly after Sept. 11. Doug found freelance work, but ultimately, it wasn't enough to pay all the bills.
"It was so sad to leave Baltimore. We had the most eccentric neighbors," he said. "But when the magazine died, Annie was pregnant and we already had a 3-year-old. I was the sole source of income. Freelancing bought us two years in Baltimore, but at the end of the fourth year, I was getting kind of desperate."
The couple moved four years ago from their quirky Baltimore surroundings to Stapleton, Colo., near Denver International Airport. "The job was good and at least we had a cash flow again," Doug said. "But I just ached for Baltimore. For the first year and a half, there was an air of melancholy and wistfulness about us. I had left my family behind in Philadelphia and felt guilty about yanking my daughters away from their grandparents.
"We were just kind of bummed out when Annie handed me this idea, and I said that it might be kind of fun and put some spark back in our lives. Baltimore was the kind of place that generated its own spark. We wanted to see if we could do the same in what we began to call our sensory-deprivation chamber."
Just Do It is one of two recent books involving couples who chronicle their tries at daily intercourse. In 365 Nights: A Memoir of Intimacy, Charla Muller recounts having sex with her husband, Brad, each day for a year as a present for his 40th birthday.
Dr. Barton Goldsmith, psychotherapist and author of Emotional Fitness for Couples, pinned the release of such books perhaps to the nation's economic doldrums.
"Recession is good for relationships," he said. "People don't want to go out so they can cocoon, and sex can be fun for many couples. It beats the hell out of Monopoly. ... Reclaiming the spark of romance is always a timely subject."
No stone unturned
The Browns vowed to stick to their schedule, in sickness and in health. They arranged for babysitters. They chose provocative apparel, ditching sweat pants for violet and dark blue striped pajamas. They experimented with Viagra and Chinese sex herbs. They also took to watching pornography together for the first time, attending a porn convention in Las Vegas. Often they allowed their inhibitions to run wild, conjuring up more sensual creativity than a Karma Sutra primer.
Other times, they simply shed their clothes and got it over with.
"The old cliche is that guys could do it every day, no problem," Doug said. "I'm sure there are some guys who could, but for most guys, one of the biggest issues is that if both of you work, the exhaustion beats you up. ... Definitely there were many times when we were doing it just for the sake of meeting our goal."
The two agreed to write the book early on in the process. For Doug, who mainly writes narratives, finding his own voice was a challenge. But he was determined to craft something that was a departure from much of what he had seen on the literary market.
"In a lot of books, the subject of sex is either very couched, so you never get a sense of anything, or it's pornographic," he said. "I wanted to find that balance, for it to be honest and open.
"And that was challenging. The earlier drafts were more graphic, but Annie read them and said, 'No, you've got to knock it down a bit.' But some sections of the earlier draft were also too tame."
The couple say that their friends love the book, while both of their fathers have begun to read it, too.
"Much to my dismay," said Annie, who adds she's still uncomfortable with the thought of her father reading about the couple having sex on an exercise ball. "I told him, 'Dad, you don't have to. ... But he's a former English professor, so he reads everything he can get his hands on."
The couple say the 100 days of sex has brought upon a newfound tenderness and closeness for each other.
"Over time," Doug said, "it did get better, and later we got looser with each other and more playful."
The Browns have since moved to Boulder, Colo., which they both enjoy. In a way, seeking to recapture Baltimore's excitement helped them to develop a closeness that will help them enjoy life no matter where they live.
Still, Doug said, "Some our best memories are in Baltimore."
After sex for 101 days straight, that's saying something, Charm City.
"There was much more to the training period than light cotton evening wear for men, of course. Every time we ran across news stories about sex, we'd forward them to each other. Friends, too, were sending us blogs and articles. Disaster scenes often flickered in the corners of our brains. Sickness? Must have sex. An argument? Must have sex. Staggering boredom? Sore groins, gas pains? Must have sex. Is there such a thing as too much sex? Could a hundred days of fluid exchange somehow damage our health?
"Check it out," said Annie after work one night. She led me upstairs to the bedroom. "Behold," she said.
"Note the lack of photographs," she said. "I removed them. No parents, no children, no grandmas or grandpas. We love 'em, but they've got nothing to do with, you know, our sanctuary." .... A piece of tablecloth draped the television screen.
"No TV?" I asked, an eyebrow raised.
"Just no looking at the contraption when we're not using it," said Annie. "It's not the most pleasant-looking thing in the world. I call this 'den shui.' Kind of like feng shui, only without the ancient wisdom part."
From Just Do It by Douglas Brown